The readings today continue to exercise us. For or against, it’s difficult to find common ground for all but the first one, ‘Growing Blind’ by Rainer Maria Rilke. We note the discrepancy between title and text. In the text itself, references to being blind are oblique. The unique skill of the individual there is to sing, which has nothing to do with her eye. And that once she had surmounted ‘some height or bridge…/She would no longer walk her way, but fly.’
Is this us? At this point in time, this week? Are we growing blind, too? Each of us great at singing our own songs, but less great at other things, equally necessary, perhaps? Is this about well-roundedness or valuing something unique to us? Ahmad asks what can we do to fly. I wonder if we put art/ists on a pedestal, but don’t necessarily value them. Some of us tell (and some of us remember without telling) stories of singers and dancers, or artists and academics brought out for entertainment, but not truly allowed to participate or remunerated where it matters. Is value related to authenticity? Is money the only quantifiable measure of value? Ahmad asks gently, but provocatively, ‘Who here feels that they are being paid what they deserve?’ Only two of us raise our hands. To the great surprise of the rest of us. I wonder why we are surprised.
The second reading, ‘Has the Incredible Accuracy of Art Reproduction Ruined the Way we Experience Masterpieces?’ by Noah Charney, brought out some interesting contrasts. As a whole, we seemed more comfortable about the idea of a replica of the Chauvet cave than a perfect 3D-digital copy of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Almond Blossom’ from the Relievo Collection. Is scarcity or exclusivity part of the awe we feel for the original? And what about apprenticeship, a kind of medieval franchising, where ‘[t]he mark of a good assistant was his ability to paint in a way that was indistinguishable from the master’s style, so that the finished painting, sculpture or decorative object would appear to have been created by a single artist.’
How much inauthenticity (or fakery – again, as with masks vs costumes, what words we use lead us, consciously or unconsciously to very different ways of thinking and being) can we take? Are we more or less accepting of a museum display if we know it’s fake? Does it matter if we don’t know? What if the object is an AI copy? And passes the Turing test (think Blade Runner)? We go back to some of our discussions from the previous day. There is, also, the issue of the democratization of culture. Replicas, digital copies, ‘fakes’, can function as entry points to the real, the genuine, the authentic. This is evident in an art installation replicating a 1950s American garage (so we can understand that era from its objects and how they were collected and arranged in that space) as much as it is in any number of exhibitions about Tutankhamen and Egypt (with thanks to Greg for these examples). Or the religious relics (hair, nails, etc) of saints and holy folk in any number of religious traditions. Do they have to be real to for their healing powers to be efficacious? And if we dismiss these as superstition, what of the real effects of placebos in medicine?
Ultimately, the piece concludes, when ‘simulacra [become] so much more convenient to experience, the real version can slump into disrepair and eventually become abandoned. Then we may be left with the body, but risk the loss of the most important thing to those who truly know and love art and history: the soul.’
This idea of the soul, though, is challenged by the third reading, ’Inside “The Next Rembrandt”: How JWT Got a Computer to Paint Like the Old Master’, by Tim Nudd. This painting had ‘emotional value’. It also began a heated debate on whether the vast resources spent on AI to create this painting were ethical – if individuals were the object of such attention, how much more might they thrive and realize their potential? As for what Rembrandt himself might think? Well, he’d ‘laugh himself silly…if he saw there was a team of 20 people, really clever people, working for 18 months and this is what they come up with.’
The next three readings, ‘Up for bid, AI art signed “Algorithm”’, by Gabe Cohn; ‘AI-Generated Art Now Looks More Convincingly Human than Work at Art Basel’, by Sarah Cascone; and ‘Who Painted Rembrandt? Copyright and Authorship of Two Rembrandt Portraits’, by Emily Lanza, continue to develop and expand upon these themes and those discussed from the previous day. Ultimately, the question is whether, like the readings on music the following day, such technology can be accepted as ‘part of the toolbox of future artists.’ It’s a loaded question, with profound implications.